Girls' glory - 'Immaculate' performance in math, English

Published: Tuesday | March 31, 2009

Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer

Students at Immaculate Conception High School take part in classroom studies yesterday. The all-girl school performed strongly in the 2008 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer

JACQUELINE HUNTER and Dorion Wilkins gave approving nods as they examined data from the Caribbean Examinations Council's (CXC) 2008 exams in the library at Immaculate Conception High School in St Andrew.

The all-girl school again performed strongly, but there is no gloating by the senior teachers. They take the impressive marks of their students in stride.

"It really motivates us more than anything. We thank God every day, because we are very fortunate at Immaculate," said Wilkins, head of the mathematics department, who has been at the school for 22 years.

Recently, the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) released statistics from its 2008 exams. In Jamaica, Immaculate finished second in English (3,146) and math (2,642) to Campion College, which returned figures of 3,495 (English) and 3,534 (math).

The latest numbers are no surprise to Hunter, head of the 16-teacher English department, who has taught at Immaculate for 24 years. She said the school's Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) English marks are consistently in the 90s.

"When we see them (students) falling off, it's cause for concern, because they come in with fairly strong language skills," she told The Gleaner.

Hunter says the school's English programme improved even more two years ago when a retired teacher joined its staff and suggested a simple but effective method.

"She revisited, in a significant way, basic grammar structures and we infused a lot of that into our grades seven to nine programmes, where there are a lot of corrective measures," Hunter explained. "When they come into grade nine, they are doing more continuous writing and, by then, the major grammatical and structural flaws are attended to."

That system has paid off as Immaculate had a 98 per cent success rate in English in 2008.

Departmental meetings

The mathematics returns are not far behind. Of the 220 students who went up for the subject in 2008, 206 were successful. Wilkins credits this to "in-depth departmental meetings" with her staff of 14.

"We look at the previous year, the weak areas, and decide where we go from there. If we see 114 (students) getting 'ones' we try to lift that by 10 per cent," she said.

Wilkins says response to math in grades seven and eight is so enthusiastic that many students eventually show an interest in accounts and physics.

"A number of them want to branch off into the sciences by the time they get to grade nine," she said.

Campion and Immaculate, which in the past had a distinct middle-class enrolment, are some ways ahead of the pack in the two core subjects, English and math. Schools which have traditionally done well, such as Wolmer's and Ardenne, were at best satisfactory, while those upgraded to high schools continue to perform dismally.

It is a disparity noted in a 2008 CSEC analysis conducted by noted pollster Bill Johnson. "Although the results were slightly better than in 2007, the overall performance of Jamaican students in both the English and math last year was certainly no cause for celebration," said the pollster in his report.

"Slightly more than one-third of those eligible passed the English exam and even fewer, about one-in-five, passed math."

Using figures from the Ministry of Education, Johnson noted that said students enrolled in traditional secondary/high school are four and a half times more likely to pass English than their counterparts in an upgraded high school. The situation is just about the same for math.

See full analysis of 2008 CSEC English and math results in the Education 2020 magazine inside this issue of The Gleaner.